US researchers have developed a way for driverless cars to see objects hidden around corners.
The super-sensitive laser imaging technology reflects off nearby objects, allowing the car to react to hazards before they come into view.
“It sounds like magic but the idea of non-line-of-sight imaging is actually feasible,” said Gordon Wetzstein, assistant professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University and senior author of a paper describing the work, published in the journal Nature.
Although the Stanford group isn’t alone in developing methods for bouncing lasers around corners to capture images of objects, they say their work advances the technology thanks to an extremely efficient and effective algorithm for processing the final image.
“A substantial challenge in non-line-of-sight imaging is figuring out an efficient way to recover the 3-D structure of the hidden object from the noisy measurements,” explained David Lindell, graduate student in the Stanford Computational Imaging Lab and co-author of the paper. “I think the big impact of this method is how computationally efficient it is.”
However, the technique depends on analysing scattered light particles that are intentionally ignored by LIDAR, the guidance system currently in cars.
“We believe the computation algorithm is already ready for LIDAR systems,” said Matthew O’Toole, a postdoctoral scholar in the Stanford Computational Imaging Lab and co-lead author of the paper. “The key question is if the current hardware of LIDAR systems supports this type of imaging.”
Before the system is ready for use on the road, it will also have to work better in daylight and with objects in motion, like a bouncing ball or running child.
As well as autonomous vehicles, uses of the technology could include seeing through foliage from aerial vehicles or giving rescue teams the ability to find people blocked from view by walls and rubble.